Tuesday, October 20, 2015

New quintet, co-led by two ISO members at play, reinterprets the Weckl book, with a few extras

My view, first set, left to right: Ballantine, Dokken, Ortwein, Hetrick and Finnigan.
Band names that carry clues as to size, genre, and personnel can be almost cryptic. Nonetheless, the new HetWein Futet stands in the firm, if odd, tradition of naming push-comes-to-shove.

Let's see: There's been drummer Ralph Peterson's Fo'tet, saxophonist Jeff Coffin's Mu'tet, and of course (to trowel in size references beyond single digits) the 10-piece Marty Paich Dektette that provided such a good setting for Mel Torme for many years.

Classical education having survived better in Europe, French pianist Martial Solal counted up to 12 in Greek, while replacing the last part of the compound, with his Dodecaband.

Combined leader names work if they are short, as in TanaReid, an ensemble that played the Jazz Kitchen a few times under the leadership of drummer Akira Tana and bassist Rufus Reid. Five syllables required for the much-admired Sauter-Finnegan band of a couple of generations back suited that more patient era well enough. More representative of our speeded-up, hiphop-inflected time was the shortlived supergroup with a compressed rhyming name: ScoLoHoFo — just add water and stir, and you had (for one CD) John Scofield, Joe Lovano, Dave Holland, and Al Foster.

Anyway, this Indianapolis group is a "futet" because of its focus on fusion, specifically the heavy, white-bread groove of drummer Dave Weckl's bands. And the first part of the band name squeezes together the co-leader's names: drummer Craig Hetrick and saxophonist Mark Ortwein. The two Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra members — percussionist and assistant principal bassoonist, respectively — got together earlier this year to put into practice their admiration for the Dave Weckl repertoire.

Their first outing in a while was Monday night at the Jazz Kitchen — the regular no-cover evening perhaps suiting Ortwein's admission that not everything was as polished as a regularly working band of such professionals is capable of. The five-piece band is filled out by guitarist Charlie Ballantine, bassist Steve Dokken, and keyboardist Pat Finnigan.

It was fun to hear an Ortwein original, the quirky "Schizoid," in this setting after having heard it done by his other band, the Icarus Ensemble. Finnigan was fully engaged with the mockingly disturbed mood in his electric-piano solo, followed by a Hetrick showcase that led, after a suspenseful pause, back to the disjunct tune. That was among Ortwein's outings on soprano sax during the first set; another was "Song for Claire," a Jay Oliver tune for Weckl's band with some suggestions of a country ballad.

As a tenorman, Ortwein was on fire in the Weckl/Gary Meek burner, "Get to It," which included some snappy drum breaks by the co-leader. He remained on tenor for what followed, an attractive ballad titled "Sublimation," written by his son, Olas. The rendition included fine solos by Ballantine and Dokken, though the figure the bass guitarist placed behind the theme's return didn't quite fit.  Nonetheless, the inclusion of this piece can be counted a justifiable exercise in musical nepotism.

The set finale, the Weckl/Oliver "Big B, Little B," made for a rousing conclusion. The audience was treated to a Dokken solo in which he put his funky thumb to work and an extended Hetrick episode behind the band's riff, just before the Futet wrapped things up in order to take a break.

For me, far and away the most consistently inspired playing came in another Ortwein original, with a bilingual title whose English version is "Large Pepperoni With Extra Cheese."  It certainly whetted the appetite for more from this band. With Ortwein on baritone saxophone, the whole performance maintained a high level. Ballantine sounded like the poll winner NUVO readers recently dubbed him, and everyone else followed suit. The Futet played like a much more seasoned band than it is — perhaps a harbinger of good things to come.